American Express Showcases MusicDirect

If you watch mainstream TV, you've probably seen it: The American Express Plum Card ad that features catalog/online analog retailer MusicDirect. Filmed in December, with little advance notice, the ad debuted on February 19, and is expected to run for several months.

American Express released the Plum Card in November 2007, targeting it at small business with expenses of $5000 or more each month.

Needless to say, no one at MusicDirect is crying over the greatest amount of free exposure both the company and the analog resurgence have received. "To see a half million dollars worth of high-end audio equipment on prime-time TV made everything worth it," says MusicDirect's director of sales, Josh Bizar. "One of the interesting things was that there were 60 people on the set who had never seen all those turntables before. More than a dozen of them actually bought entry-level turntables off the set!"

MusicDirect founder Jim Davis is similarly upbeat. "The ad just fell into our lap. It was pretty wild. I can safely say that this probably will never happen to an audiophile company ever again."

Although MusicDirect had no idea that they and Pink Berry yogurt were being considered for AmEx Plum Card commercials, they are certain that AmEx had been scouting for the right company for a long time. Eventually the company contacted them and conducted a few interviews.

"They even came out and took a look at the place," says Bizar, "but we still didn't know what it was for. Then me and my boss Jim were asked by an ad agency to fly to LA, where they told us we had one week to get $500,000 worth of equipment to a humongous CBS soundstage in Century City."

That was in December, right in the heart of the Christmas rush. Caught with their needles bare, MusicDirect's sales force had to tell customers that some of their equipment was in LA, and that they'd have to wait for delivery. Meanwhile, with help from dozens upon dozens of vendors, including but not limited to Focal-JMab, Rega, Musical Surroundings, Marantz, Lyra, Cary, BAT, and Pro-ject, the company managed to ship everything in time. A few expensive cartridges and some small packaging never made it back to Chicago headquarters, but no one is complaining.

The actual production took three days, one for rehearsal, two for the actual shooting. Many of the directors and producers, all appearing under 30, were awed by the equipment.

One unexpected dividend from the ad is that MusicDirect got to keep the set. In a classic case of art—well, commercial art—becoming reality, the company plans to set up the set in the walk-in portion of their warehouse. Before long, the fantasy MusicDirect will become the actual MusicDirect.

"We've been getting calls from customers we never would have gotten in touch with through Stereophile and TAS print advertisements" (footnote 1), says Bizar. "The new people are all over the map, from 18-year-olds loving that they've bought their first turntable to baby boomers who didn't know that turntables were still available. Our catalog requests, either via phone or website, have gone up 500%. There has also been an increase in sales. Our analog sales are through the roof; they've grown 300% in the last three years. This new vinyl revolution is exploding, and it's exploding into the mainstream."

What kind of music are the new customers buying? The younger ones are mostly into new vinyl rock issues from Spoon, Artic Monkeys, The White Stripes, Wilco, Amy Winehouse, Cat Power, and others. Older music lovers are focusing on jazz and classical as well as new and classic rock.

"It's a little too early to determine if our new customers will get into other stuff," says Davis. "They're mostly interested in less expensive gear for starters. Non-audiophiles are not going to spend the same kind of money as audiophiles. And some of the tweaky things we sell sound a little crazy to outsiders. 25 years ago, expensive cables were considered crazy, and now they're accepted by 99% of audiophiles."

Which doesn't make us crazy, right? Oh boy, wait until cable-bashing Stereophile forum member DUP reads this.

Footnote 1: You did not read that here. I repeat. You did not read that here.